Do Good Test Scores Make a School Great?

GreatSchools is a popular website that rates public schools across the United States. Although the site points out that the quality of each school’s teachers, the school culture, special programs are important factors, their ratings are based exclusively on test score. They compare a school’s standardized test performance to that of other schools in the state.

In reality, test scores are relevant because they are a big component of the College admission process. In addition, test scores allow for a somewhat objective comparison because everybody is taking the same standardized tests. Finally schools have been forced to take standardized testing very seriously these days, so you can see how they are measuring up to that task.

However, there are many problems with a focus on test scores. Critics have pointed out that test taking is not the same as learning, and it is not a lifelong skill meriting so big a focus in our schools. In addition, the format of standardized tests makes it hard to measure critical thinking skills which are often more important than the memorized facts and test taking skills that test scores reflect.

I think the worst thing about the centralization of testing is that it puts the focus on where the student is, rather than on where they can go. Everybody is capable of learning and growing smarter. There may be differences in the ultimate heights a person can reach, or the speed in which they grow but a lifetime of learning should be our objective. Tests should be used to assess how students can be even better not to evaluate how they are right now. We need to encourage growth, not discourage by marking students with a scarlet C.